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What is Figure Skating?

The Dutch were some of the first people to begin ice skating, as they used a primitive footwear to traverse frozen canals in the Netherlands during the 13th century. However, hundreds of years would pass before a ballet master reportedly invented the graceful sport of figure skating in the 1860’s, shortly after the addition of steel blades to ice skates. Competitive figure skating remains the oldest Winter Olympic sports and has been featured since the 1908 London games. Figure skating is similar to the Winter Olympic event of speed skating, except that competition is judged more on grace and technical execution rather than agility and speed.

How To Participate

Competitive figure skating relies on a relatively subjective scoring system. At the Olympics, a panel of nine judges award scores based on two sets of marks: the technical element score and the program component score. In this manner, both the execution and athletic difficulty as well as overall style and presentation of a figure skater are taken into consideration. Winners are decided by the athletes which receive the highest total segment score.

Competitive events are broken down into mens, womens, and pairs. Furthermore, events can be split between short programs and longer free skate, with events typically lasting between two to four minutes. Ice dancing is one variation of the sport, such as the ice dance short dance, which is set to a specific rhythm and genre of music. Mastering the grace and technical ability required for figure skating is a tough but rewarding challenge for many ice skaters.

Where To Participate

Figure skating today is an internationally popular sport, and has expanded greatly from its Dutch roots. Canada, Russia, and Japan are some countries which are typical contenders for medals at the Olympic level. In the United States, competition figure skating occurs both at high school varsity and collegiate levels as well as numerous private clubs and teams. One central hub is Colorado Springs, home to the World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame.

While skating in general is a popular indoor and outdoor activity, the standard figure skating rink does not exceed 60 meters by 30 meters. There are figure skating teams, clubs, and academics across the United States and globally. Golden Skate publishes a comprehensive directory of figure skating clubs and ice rinks organized into the regions of Africa, Oceania, Europe, and North America.

Equipment Needed for Figure Skating

The general techniques of figure skating could theoretically be practiced with a pair of ice skates on any frozen pond or rink, but a carefully controlled rink is necessary to avoid injury while practicing advanced jumps and spins. Additionally, figure skaters and ice dancers wear specialized skates designed for the precise motions and movements of a figure skating routine. There are even specialized boots which provide stiff support and additional ankle bracing which beginners may not be accustomed to.

Extravagant costumes are often featured to enhance the routine and determine scoring aspects depending on the level of competition. While an entire team may assist in the planning and creation of these garments at the Olympic level, this level of apparel is not necessary for the beginner figure skater. Many beginners are comfortable wearing tights, leg warmers, and jackets on the ice.


United States Figure Skating Association

Figure Skating 101